S.J. Parris

Harper Collins £12.99 Hbk

Released: March 4th 2010

Reviewer: Ayo Onatade

Ayo Onatade is an avid reader of crime and mystery fiction. She has been writing reviews, interviews and articles on the subject for the last 12 years; with an eclectic taste from historical to hardboiled, short stories and noir films


In 1576 Monk Giordano Bruno barely escapes with his life after he is caught reading a forbidden book and finds himself about to face the inquisition.  Having seen first hand the way in which the Inquisition treats people he flees.  Bruno’s flight is seen as an admission of guilt and in his absence he is declared to be a heretic. 

Seven years later he finds himself in the service of Queen Elizabeth I’s spymaster, Sir Francis Walsingham.  Using his background as a scholar as a cover he is sent to Oxford University to seek out the Catholic rebels on Walsingham’s behalf but soon finds himself distracted by other issues.  A number of brutal and rather gory murders take place and a young woman with very strong views further sidetracks him. 

Furthermore, whilst there Bruno is also trying and hoping to get his hands on an elusive book that contains heretical theories regarding the universe.  Being the newcomer he is the immediate suspect in the killings and he has to find the real killer who is stalking the shadowy cloisters of the college in Oxford.   It is a hot bed of dissent alongside political machinations and the struggles of all those caught up in it. 

Heresy introduces readers to ex-communicated Italian Monk Giordano Bruno.  The period that it is set in is vividly portrayed and rich in detail.  Gory at times but also compelling, Heresy is certainly a book that draws you in from the beginning.  Set in Tudor England Heresy reminds me much more of the Henry Gresham series by Martin Stephen rather than “Shardlake”.  This is not meant as a criticism, in fact, I see it as an added incentive to want to read further adventures of Bruno. 

Bruno is clearly a reluctant detective but this does not stop him from being good at what he does.  As a character he is interesting, curious and very plausible.  I generally have a problem when a real life character is used as a detective but not in this case.  It could be because I don’t know much about him apart from the fact that he was actually burnt at the stake.  It could also be because the author has written an interesting and character driven historical crime novel. 

Prologues are also pretty difficult, either they work or they don’t.  With Heresy the prologue gives us a tantalising insight into Bruno’s earlier life.  One hopes that as the series continues that the author will give us a bit more as it would be interesting to know what happened to him during the seven year period. 

If you are looking for an absorbing book to read, then Heresy certainly fits the mould.







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